Most recently reviewed by: Dalton Ludwick (2020)
Common Name(s): Africanized Honey Bee, Killer bees
Africanized honey bees are a race or variety of the honey bee Apis mellifera. Africanized honey bees look identical to European honey bees. There are many races of A. mellifera with varying characteristics.
Beekeepers have taken advantage of these races and bred new races to produce bees with desirable traits such as gentleness or good honey production. However, since all races can mate, all races can interbreed.
Africanized honey bees are a race or variety of the honey bee Apis mellifera. Africanized honey bees look identical to European honey bees. There are many races of A. mellifera with varying characteristics and beekeepers take advantage of these races and have bred new races to produce bees with desirable traits such as gentleness or good honey production. However, since all races can mate with one another, all races can interbreed. Therefore, an Africanized honey bee in the US is one that contains the Africanized bee gene. Their degree of aggression and temperament vary considerably.
Origin and Distribution
Africanized honey bees were introduced into the Americas in the mid 1950’s by way of Brazil. During this time, Brazil was looking for ways to improve their honey production and introduced honey bees from tropical Africa in an attempt to establish a more successful honey bee. The bees quickly started to spread, reaching south Texas by 1990.
Africanized honey bees today are considered a hybrid of European honey bees and the African honey bee queens that spread from Brazil. Natural migration of the bees has allowed them to spread throughout all of Texas. In 2006, Africanized honey bees had been detected in 163 of 254 Texas counties, and it is assumed that feral bee colonies from any county within the state will test positive for the Africanized honey bee gene. As a result, Africanized honey bee testing is no longer performed in Texas.
Habitat & Hosts
Africanized honey bees are void nesters and will nest in hollow tree holes and stumps, eves of buildings, and any other cavity. They have been known to form nests in unused BBQ pits, trash cans, and other objects. At times, Africanized honey bees will form nests outside of voids with comb exposed, but those will generally not sustain through cold months.
Hives, or nests, are composed of wax produced from glands in worker bees, which are molded into vertically hanging combs. There may be several to many vertically hanging combs in a nest, depending on the strength and size of the colony. Comb is composed of hexagonal cells that contain eggs, larvae, pupae, honey and pollen.
Just like any honey bee race, Africanized honey bees are pollen and nectar feeders and excellent pollinators. They feed on both nectar and pollen from flowering plants.
Africanized honey bees have a complete lifecycle: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. A colony contains a single queen who lays all the eggs in hexagonal cells. Eggs hatch after about 3 days into grub like, white larvae who are fed by workers. After feeding for about 6 days, the larvae elongate and turn into prepupa and are capped inside the cell within about 24 hours. After approximately 10 days, the adult bee will chew it’s way out of the cell. Adult bees may take 19-23 days to develop, depending if they are queens (~19 days), workers (~21 days) or drones (~23 days).
Queens are produced from fertilized eggs. Their cells are much larger because the queen is the largest honey bee in the colony. From the moment she hatches, she is fed a constant diet of royal jelly, which allows her to become the queen. Workers are also produced from fertilized eggs but are not fed the constant diet of royal jelly and are females within the colony that do not have the ability to mate. Drones are the only males and are produced from unfertilized eggs.
Workers have a variety of jobs depending on age. From young to older, these include nurse bees, construction workers, guard bees, and foragers. Workers live as adults 5-6 weeks during warm months and up to 3-4 months during the winter months.
Queens can live up to five years, but most are likely replaced within two years. Drones live approximately 3 months, but various factors reduce that lifespan, including mating and being killed off prior to winter months by workers to prevent them from eating all the food stores.
ManagementIf you live in the State of Texas, contact your local county agent or entomologist for management information. If you live outside of Texas, contact your local extension for management options.
The main, undesired characteristic of Africanized honey bees is their tendency to be extremely aggressive and temperamental. All social insects are at their most aggressive when they are protecting their home, so when the bees perceive a threat to their home they can attack humans or other animals. Hives that are nesting in eves of structures or where humans are active, should be removed and relocated or killed. A certified pest management professional or beekeeper should be employed for such a task.
For information on beekeepers who do honey bee removal, visit Texas Apiary Inspection Service’s Website: https://txbeeinspection.tamu.edu/bee-removal/